Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Alpine Living Air Classic – Taking A Closer Look

For more than a decade, Americans have been becoming increasingly aware that the air that they breathe in their homes is generally not of good quality. Between cooking and pet odors, mold, mildew, the widespread use of plastic materials, and carcinogenic cleaning products, many feel that their inside air has been compromised. What do consumers do? Purchase an air purifier. In 1998 I was given the gift of an Alpine Living Air Classic machine. It has been touted as an ideal solution for problem air. Let’s see if the product lives up to its billing.

As far as air purifiers go, the Alpine Living Air Classic [now sold by EcoQuest International] is neither cheap nor does it look cheap. Weighing 19 pounds, the “Classic” is housed in a wooden cabinet available to consumers in four colors: dark walnut, light oak, putty, and black. It is a solid unit with a thick six foot electrical cord. Claiming coverage of up to 3,000 square feet most homes could operate with just one unit although a second one might be needed if your house is large, indoor air pollution is high, or you have high humidity. Prices currently start at $549 so it is no cheap investment.

How does it work? The unit produces ozone which coupled with an active fan it reproduces and spreads the clean, fresh scent of a thunderstorm throughout your home. Okay, I am parroting some of the marketing material...I had to because it isn’t that easy to describe.

So, does it work? As far as producing the ‘thunderstorm scent’ it certainly does. As far as getting rid of pollutants, odors, and the like I cannot tell you for sure that it does. Indeed there has been plenty of controversy and government rulings against the reported claims of air purifiers over the years by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency {EPA}, Consumer’s Union [they produce Consumer’s Report magazine], and the American Lung Association.

The EPA has this to say, “whether in its pure form or mixed with other chemicals, ozone can be harmful to health. When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts of ozone can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and, throat irritation. It may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma as well as compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections." They go on to say, “some studies show that ozone concentrations produced by ozone generators can exceed health standards even when one follows manufacturer’s instructions. Many factors affect ozone concentrations including the amount of ozone produced by the machine(s), the size of the indoor space, the amount of material in the room with which ozone reacts, the outdoor ozone concentration, and the amount of ventilation. These factors make it difficult to control the ozone concentration in all circumstances."

In conclusion, the EPA states: “Available scientific evidence shows that, at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone is generally ineffective in controlling indoor air pollution.” The concentration of ozone would have to greatly exceed health standards to be effective in removing most indoor air contaminants. In the process of reacting with chemicals indoors, ozone can produce other chemicals that themselves can be irritating and corrosive.

As you can imagine, I no longer use my Alpine Living Air Classic. It sits in my office, unplugged, and working well in its new role as a coffee cup holder while I work on my computer. Frankly, the claims made against this unit made by the federal government and others are certainly frightening.

So, how do I achieve clean air today? Again, by visiting the EPA’s site I have learned that there are 3 common approaches to reducing indoor air pollution:

Source Control: Eliminate or control the sources of pollution;

Ventilation: Dilute and exhaust pollutants through outdoor air ventilation, and

Air Cleaning: Remove pollutants through proven air cleaning methods.

Of the three, the first approach -- source control -- is the most effective. This involves minimizing the use of products and materials that cause indoor pollution, employing good hygiene practices to minimize biological contaminants (including the control of humidity and moisture, and occasional cleaning and disinfection of wet or moist surfaces), and using good housekeeping practices to control particles.

The second approach -- outdoor air ventilation -- is also effective and commonly employed. Ventilation methods include installing an exhaust fan close to the source of contaminants, increasing outdoor air flows in mechanical ventilation systems, and opening windows, especially when pollutant sources are in use.

The third approach -- air cleaning -- is not generally regarded as sufficient in itself, but is sometimes used to supplement source control and ventilation. Air filters, electronic particle air cleaners and ionizers are often used to remove airborne particles, and gas adsorbing material is sometimes used to remove gaseous contaminants when source control and ventilation are inadequate.

If you are intent on purchasing any air purifier, I recommend that you first do plenty of independent research apart from what the marketers tell you. By following the 3 methods stressed by the EPA you should be able to achieve acceptable indoor cleanliness without resorting to purchasing expensive – even dangerous – air sanitization equipment.

For more information please read:

The EPA’s Position:

Some Air Purifiers May Produce Dangerous Levels of Ozone:

What is Ozone Air Pollution?

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